Am I perfect now? The media’s unrealistically high standards of beauty imposed upon women

The media imposes unrealistically high standards of beauty on women. How is it possible to be happy with our own unique physical appearance and love our average-sized bodies when every magazine, newspaper, billboard and television advert uses flawless, skinny models to represent beauty? Have you ever thought that there’s a little magic behind what goes into producing these images and advertisements that reflect what seem to be impossible-to-attain standards of beauty? Well, perhaps there is. Perhaps how the media represents the physical beauty of women is totally inaccurate.

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It’s 7am. You wake up and head to the kitchen to whip up one of those nauseating weight loss shakes for yourself, and then gulp it down with a side serving of this month’s issue of your favourite fashion and beauty magazine. Oh, a new night cream that will boost my skin’s radiance and clear my complexion overnight! She’s glowing! The things I’d do to have skin as flawless as this woman’s, you think to yourself. You turn the page. Oh my, this girl’s waist is so tiny! Tips for shedding a few kilos in under one month? Yes please! Wow, she really looks so good in those high-waisted jeans – guess I won’t be wearing my pair today then – not until I’ve invested in these new diet pills! Women of all ages are vulnerable to the ridiculous standards of beauty that the media imposes.

In 2008, an article on HealthyPlace.com (available online at http://www.healthyplace.com/eating-disorders/articles/eating-disorders-body-image-and-advertising/) revealed that a poll proved that 69% of girls have developed complexities, self-esteem issues or eating disorders due to the media’s inaccurate representation of beauty. Is it really possible to be as flawless as the models that we see in magazines? No. And, more importantly, are these models really that flawless after all? Once again – no. So then what kind of magic is used to fake the imperfections? Well, it’s pretty simple.

Talented Cape Town-based high fashion photographer Timothy Cronje explains that a strong team consisting of a photographer, make-up artist, hairstylist and fashion stylist is used to create the picture perfect seen in the media. “Photoshop, Photoshop, Photoshop… it’s all faked!” Timothy admits. Computer imaging programmes such as Adobe Photoshop have been used for years to retouch and digitally airbrush models’ faces to make them appear flawless. A Los Angeles-based retouching lab even admitted to retouching every photograph of any girl over the age of fourteen. “Models also get zits, they also have bad hair days, and they also want their thighs slimmed down in photos – you just wouldn’t guess any of this because it’s all so well hidden and perfected in Photoshop,” Timothy says.

Timothy explains how he’s heard many stories from models about how they are directly insulted and told from time to time that they’re either too fat or simply don’t make the cut. “This week I worked with an experienced model from Full Circle Model Management – tall, incredibly striking, just gorgeous – and upon telling me about her time modeling in Paris during her younger days, she said that she was often directly told that she was too fat, too average, or simply didn’t make the cut. For someone so beautiful, I was shocked!” Timothy reveals.

Leigh Vermaak, creative at prestigious global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi and part-time fashion stylist, adds to Timothy’s point by explaining that photographers post produce images of women for flawless yet completely fake end results. “Many celebrities have started to rail against the industry, exposing their own flaws and what the retouchers have changed about them for magazine covers and what not,” Leigh says. Although Photoshop is able to airbrush bad skin, even out blemishes, slim down flabby arms and even even out a bad spray tan, Leigh exclaims that “one can exercise, eat healthily, use every product on the shelf, and get Botox and plastic surgery until the cows come home, but we cannot Photoshop ourselves before we leave the house.”

Confident Leigh admits that she simply lives her life either reminding herself that the media’s portrayal of beauty is not real, but rather Photoshop. The reputable fashionista also urges girls to take her advice to simply live by the age old-rules when attempting to achieve high standards of beauty – dress for your body shape, find your own style and voice, be comfortable, stand up straight, and use home remedies on your skin and hair as treatments. “And then there’s all the things I don’t do: drink lots of water, eat small meals often, and stop smoking,” she adds with a giggle.

Apart from accepting that Photoshop plays a huge role in portraying women seen in the media as nothing less than perfect, it should also be kept in mind that being your own kind of beautiful is important, as suggested by international model Sarah Isaacs, represented by Boss Models in Cape Town. Although critisised herself throughout her modeling career, Sarah still believes that all women should love themselves for who they are. “Long hair, a flat tummy, big boobs and a thigh gap are features that almost every girl would love to have, but not having these features doesn’t make you any less beautiful than that girl on the cover of Woman’s Health or Vogue.” Melissa Cohen, professional make-up artist and hairstylist who works with reputable models on a daily basis, agrees with Sarah by stating that living a healthy, active lifestyle and being happy with who you are is the best way to overcome discouragement brought about by the media.

Another fabrication of the media is the idea that you will achieve the appearance of a perfectly made-up model by simply purchasing and applying advertised beauty products. However, the cold, hard truth is that none of these products will ensure that you’ll achieve the ideal that you’re being sold. “Advertising adds another layer by formulating and then selling products that constantly preach about anti-aging, and making one a better version of themself, always at an exorbitant cost,” says Leigh. Sarah adds that the media has created the idea that women can achieve physical perfection through various beauty products, most of which are known to be gimmicks.

Perhaps all women should try and take on the view of Women’s Health South Africa editor Kate Wilson, the leader behind this thinking that the media represents the beauty of women inaccurately, who suggests that being healthy and accepting yourself for who you are should be a key part of being happy. It’s not all about the flawless face, it’s not all about the fit body. And after all, imperfection is beauty, right?

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